2008-08-16 55 -114
This looked like the most doable geohash in Slave Lake since I arrived. The coordinates were 19.1 km from town, about 500m off a road both listed in Google Maps and visible in the satellite images. The satellite image shows red and green patches, looks like some kind of vegetation.
Basically, I need to turn right just after crossing the river, and then stay on the road closest to the river until it's time to make a left. I can't go wrong as long as I stay on the road north of the river, and find the correct northbound turn. Having learned from previous experience in the area that roads here don't have signposts, I printed out the Google Maps large map and wrote in the lat-long coordinates of where the first access road turns off the highway, where the second access road turns off that one, and the closest road approach to the geohash location. I also programmed these all into my GPS as a route.
Robyn and an incredibly crappy $100 Wal-Mart bicycle
Left town on Highway 88, and turned right on the first road going east. It was a good quality dirt road, level, graded and not too many rocks. And then it promptly went over a bridge to the south. I mollified myself that perhaps that was just a slough, and I was still north of the actual river. But I didn't quite believe it, and when the road forked I took the north fork, hoping that the road just crossed the river a couple of times because it was easier than following all the meanders. It seemed to be going about the right way, and then it turned north, which matched the map, but confusingly it came out at a paved road. Where the hell was I? I was back at the same road, and in fact the same turnoff as I had started. There went an hour. Riding in circles! I turned on trails on the GPS and decided to suck it up and just use lots of batteries. I also learned how to use powersave mode.
I rode further along the highway, looking for the proper road, but there was nothing else that I could conceivably claim was within the click error of my turnoff coordinates. I went back into the first road and this time realized that I had taken a north fork. Reaching that fork again, I saw that clearly the south road was the correct one. It zigged and zagged in all the right places and after about 15 km I reached my GPS marked turnoff point and there was an almost as good dirt road going north. Riding along it I saw I was within 3 nm of the geohash. I could taste it. I figured I would set up the camera and make a video of my "I finally beat you Slave Lake" victory dance.
The gravel road was getting softer, and harder to pedal along. I looked down to see if the tire was sinking in. The tire was flat. Dead flat. And no I didn't buy a pump and a patch kit to go with my crappy $100 bike. I figured I could get a couple of weeks out of it before it imploded. Sorry, no. I had 1.65 nm left to go. Too close to turn back now. I was going to do this if I had to swim, fight lions and bushwhack. I parked the bike right there by the side of the road and walk/jogged up the road. The foliage on either side varied from what looked like a spooky field of dead trees scene from a creepy fantasy movie to meadows, to meadows with a suspicious amount of bullrushes growing in them. Where there is swamp grass, there is swamp. The road turned a little so it was no longer going straight towards the geohash and I watched the numbers, knowing that when the bearing and track diverged by ninety degrees that I was as close as I was going to get. I also watched the vegetation getting more and more marshy, until I reached the closest point of approach on the road, 0.22 nm away. I looked at the marsh. I must say the picture looks much nicer. The water I saw was mucky brown. Something jumped in it. That something wasn't me.
As much as I wanted to defeat this stupid graticule, I knew I had three hours walk ahead of me, and the possibility of getting a ride would be much greater if I hadn't been rolling in pond slime. And this is my expensive GPS, and it's not waterproof. Don't think I didn't try. I walked around and looked at going around that marshiest bit. But as soon as I left the road it was deep mucky vegetation, with every step needing to be tested and inspected to make sure I wasn't going to fall into a hole. Reluctantly I turned off the GPS and headed back towards the bicycle. Every step I took away made me braver about how I should have gone for it. I'll kick myself if it's the closest I get to a hash all month. It would have taken me a long time to get through that marsh though. And I didn't want to walk 20 km in wet shoes.
Back to the bike, back to the main road, and I did persuade a coworker to come and pick me up. No one asked what I was doing way out there. "Gone for a bike ride" seemed to be enough.